Track world records: Which athletes have run the fastest times in history?

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While medals will always take priority, track athletes are always striving to break new ground when it comes to the fastest times in their discipline.

World records, which must be ratified by World Athletics and adhere to strict competition regulations, can become the defining achievement of an elite runner's career.

Below is a list of the major track events and the fastest official times ever recorded in each by men and women in outdoor competition.

MORE: World Athletics Championships 2022 results: Updated list of winners for every track & field event at Oregon22

100m world record

Men: Usain Bolt (9.58 seconds)
Women: Florence Griffith-Joyner (10.49 seconds)

Perhaps the most exciting and well-known race in all of athletics, the 100m has been contested since the 1896 Olympics for men and since the 1928 Olympics for women.

At present, the men's world record is held by Jamaica's Usain Bolt who ran it in 9.58 seconds in 2009 at Berlin's Olympiastadion. American Florence Griffith-Joyner holds the women's 100m world record, having run 10.49 seconds back in 1988.

200m world record

Men: Usain Bolt (19.19 seconds)
Women: Florence Griffith-Joyner (21.34 seconds)

Both Bolt and Griffith-Joyner also hold the respective world records for the 200m. In both instances, both athletes also broke the 200m record in the same year that they previously broke the 100m record.

Bolt ran the fastest 200m ever recorded, 19.19 seconds, to take gold at the 2009 World Championships just four days after his 100m exploits. Griffith-Joyner ran a record 21.34 seconds at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

400m world record

Men: Wayde van Niekerk (43.03 seconds)
Women: Marita Koch (47.60 seconds)

South African athlete Wayde van Niekerk holds the 400m world record, which he set during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He ran the race in 43.03 seconds, breaking Michael Johnson's long-standing best time and coming agonisingly close to the 43-second barrier.

The women's 400m world record is held by East Germany's Marita Koch who in 1985 ran a time of 47.60 seconds. 

800m world record

Men: David Rudisha (1:40.91)
Women: Jarmila Kratochvilova (1:53.28)

Kenya's David Rudisha holds the world record for the first of the races categorised as 'middle distance'. He ran the 800m in 1:40.91 during the 2012 Olympics in London.

Meanwhile, Czech Republic athlete Jarmila Kratochvilova set the women's record in this discipline back in 1983 when she ran 1:53.28.

1500m world record

Men: Hicham El Guerrouj (3:26.00)
Women: Genzebe Dibaba (3:53.07)

Two African athletes hold the world records in the men's and the women's 1500m. 

Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj ran his world-record run of 3:26.00 back in 1998 whilst Ethiopia's Genzebe Dibaba set a time of 3:50.07 in 2015. 

5000m world record

Men: Joshua Cheptegei (12:35.36)
Women: Letesenbet Gidey (14:06.62)

First run at the Olympics in 1912 for men and 1996 for women, African athletes hold the world records for the 5000m, both of which were set in 2020.

Uganda's Joshua Cheptegei ran 12:35.36 whilst Ethiopian athlete Letesenbet Gidey set a time of 14:06.62. 

10,000m world record

Men: Joshua Cheptegei (26:11.00)
Women: Letesenbet Gidey (29:01.03)

Cheptegei and Gidey also hold the respective world records in the 10,000m. 

Cheptegei made it a year to remember in 2020 as he set a new record of 26:11.00 to follow his 5000m achievement, whilst Gidey set her record in 2021 when she ran 29:01.03. 

100m hurdles world record

Women: Kendra Harrison (12.20 seconds)

The 100m hurdles, the women's short-track steeplechase, was first run at the Olympics in 1972. 

The world-record holder in this event is America's Kendra Harrison who ran a time of 12.20 seconds in 2016. That beat the previous record set by Bulgarian Yordanka Donkova by just 0.01 seconds. 

110m hurdles world record

Men: Aries Merritt (12.80 seconds)

The men's short sprint hurdles was run at the first modern Olympics in 1896. 

The world-record holder of this event is American Aries Merritt who, in 2012, ran it in 12.80 seconds. 

400m hurdles world record

Men: Karsten Warholm (45.94 seconds)
Women: Sydney McLaughlin (51.41 seconds)

The only Scandinavian on this list, Norway's Karsten Warholm is the world-record holder in the men's 400m hurdles. His record stands at 45.94 seconds — the first ever sub-46-second time in the discipline — and was set in 2021. 

In the women's event, American Sydney McLaughlin broke her own world record with a time of 51.41 seconds at the US championships last month, although World Athletics has not yet ratified the time.

3000m steeplechase world record

Men: Saif Saaeed Shaheen (7:53.63)
Women: Beatrice Chepkoech (8:44.32)

Arguably the most physically challenging race on this list, the 3000m steeplechase has formed part of the men's Olympics track events since 1920. Qatar's Saif Saaeed Shaheen is the record-holder with his best time of 7:53.63 coming in 2008, though Kenyan Brimin Kiprop Kipruto missed beating his time by just 0.01 seconds in 2011.

Kenya's Breatrice Chepkoech holds the women's world record, running a time of 8:44.32 in 2018. 

4x100m relay world record

Men: Jamaica (36.84 seconds)
Women: USA (40.82 seconds)

Set during the 2012 Olympics in London, Jamaica hold the world record for the men's 4x100m relay. The four runners — Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt — combined to run this event in just 36.84 seconds.

In the women's discipline, USA hold the world record, which was also set during the 2012 Olympics. Their team, made up of Tianna Bartoletta (nee Madison), Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter, ran the 4x100m relay in 40.82 seconds.

4x400m relay world record

Men: USA (2:54.29)
Women: Soviet Union (3:15.17)

In the 4x400m relay, USA hold the world record, set all the way back in 1993. Their team, comprising Andrew Valmon, Quincy Watts, Butch Reynolds and Michael Johnson ran the race in just 2:54.29, a finishing time over a second faster than any other relay team has ever managed. 

In the women's 4x400m relay, the Soviet Union still hold the world record dating back to 1988. Their quartet ran the race in 3:15.17 at the Olympics that year in South Korea. 

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Nathan Evans is a data editor for The Sporting News.